Prominent activist Alaa Abdel Fattah and 24 others were sentenced to 15 years in absentia by the Cairo Criminal Court on Wednesday morning for violating last year’s controversial Protest Law.
The court also fined the defendants with EGP 100,000 each and ordered they be placed under police observation for five years after serving their time in prison.
Lawyer Mahmoud Belal said the verdict was abrupt and the defendants were not called into court in time for the issuance of the verdict. He said two of the defendants, Abdel Fattah and Mohamed Nouby, were arrested in an implementation of the verdict. A third defendant, Wael Metwalli, was arrested shortly afterwards.
Seif Al-Islam Hammad, lawyer at the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre and Abdel Fattah’s father, denied that the defendants’ arrest was carried out by an arrest warrant. He said that it takes days for the court which issued the decision to notify the concerned police authorities with the said decision, adding that Wednesday’s swift arrest of the sentenced defendants is a “mysterious” case.
“The only explanation would be that the concerned police station, the Azbakeya Prosecution, sent an employee to attend the session and immediately carry out the decision,” Hammad said. He added that if such were the case, it would imply a “premeditated intent” to issue the imprisonment verdict.
The 25 defendants were arrested following a protest held on 26 November last year in objection to the military trials of civilians, held two days after the issuance of the Protest Law.
They were accused of violating the Protest Law, “thuggery”, acquiring weapons during a protest, illegal assembly, blocking roads and attacking a police officer and stealing his radio.
Hammad said that Wednesday’s session was the trial’s first hearing, adding that the head of the judicial circuit handling the trial called in sick and failed to attend the first session. He added that the verdict was not expected during Wednesday’s session.
The judge issued his decision at 9.10 am without calling in any of the defendants or their lawyers, Hammad said.
Hammad described Wednesday’s verdict as “hasty”. The defendants will now challenge the court ruling in front of the same judicial circuit which issued the ruling. Should the ruling be upheld, the defendants will be allowed to appeal it at the court of cassation.
“I believe Alaa [Abdel Fattah] was arrested today to keep him in custody during the period of challenging the verdict,” Hammad said, adding that the process of challenging the verdict and appealing it could take up to years.
The Protest Law was issued by former president Adly Mansour on 24 November 2013 to regulate the right to peaceful assembly. It has garnered wide criticism from domestic as well as international human rights organisations since then. Several political movements have also criticised the law.
All defendants sentenced on Wednesday were arrested on 26 November, except for Abdel Fattah who was arrested from his home on 28 November, despite announcing his intention to hand himself in. They were all released on bail in separate groups.
Abdel Fattah had been legally prosecuted during the former regimes of Morsi, for allegedly inciting violence against Muslim Brotherhood members, and former president Hosni Mubarak. He was also detained for two months in 2011 under the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Charges he faced then were for allegedly assaulting soldiers during the attacks carried out by army forces against a predominantly Coptic protest outside the Maspero building in October 2011.
Additional reporting by Hend Kortam